Parents, student speak up about grading system problems

Screen shot of the online grade book. - Courtesy of
Screen shot of the online grade book.
— image credit: Courtesy of

Another year, another round of confusion and displeasure about Federal Way Public Schools' standards based grading (SBG) system.

The first rumblings about this year's iteration of SBG came at the Oct. 15 school board meeting, with parent Michael Scuderi pointing out that part of the SBG grading algorithm, known as the Power Law, caused a weird skewing of grades.

At the Oct. 25 school board meeting, a number of parents and one student voiced their concerns about SBG and its effect on students, parents and teachers.

Carrie Newcombe, a parent, said she feels the district's constant tinkering with the grading system over the past few years has really shortchanged the district's consumers: students and parents.

"I cannot express enough my frustration and disappointment in this new grading system, particularly the Power Law piece," Newcombe said. "It is simply not a fair or logical system. Teachers and students are already feeling the pressure to explore ways to cheat the system, so to speak. Students are learning to underperform on tests in the beginning, and then put real effort into the later ones so their grade looks good. Teachers feel the need to manipulate grade information in order to end up with grades that accurately reflect the performance of their students. Because the reality is, this new grading system does not."

Newcombe said the district has grossly missed the mark of its consumers and has implemented a system that is simply not working.

"It's inaccurate, complicated and extremely frustrating to use," she added. "We are your consumers. We expect more competent, thoughtful decisions, when you're making decisions with very real consequences."

Daanish Khazi, who attends Thomas Jefferson High School and was the lone student speaking about the issue on Oct. 25, said the new iteration of SBG feels like a "top-down" decision that wasn't given much forethought before it was deployed and applied at the classroom level.

"When the decisions are made from the top, it doesn't necessarily reflect how it fits into the classroom setting," he said, noting how the Power Law should help students as they progress. "But progression isn't really measured within the classroom, in terms of how the assignments are inputted. The chronology of assignments are pretty arbitrary, and the grade book doesn't account for time or consistency. It counts simply for chronology — which (assignment/test) is put in first, and what's put in next."

Khazi said that if a teacher takes in two assignments on a given day, and a student gets a grade of 1 on one assignment and a 4 on the other, the variable aspect depends on whether the teacher inputs the 1 score first, or the 4 score first.

"Depending on whether she puts the 1 in first, or the 4 in first, that can make a pass or fail for the student," he noted. "It's nearly impossible to mitigate the effects of this tremendously arbitrary Power Law. It's hard to understand in the first place, and trying to extrapolate its results is even harder."

Khazi said the system puts a lot of pressure on the students.

"It kind of destroys the intrinsic value of learning since they're so focused on how to fix the system, to find out how they can get the right numbers," he added. "Students should focus on how they should learn, not on how they can get an A."

Shelley Scuderi, a parent, said that the district has failed to deliver on its promises to students and families for three years now.

"Each year, we have been promised that the new system addresses the problems of the previous year, but have once again been severely disappointed," she said. "The current new system is not only very difficult to understand, it is far worse…It cannot serve its basic purpose, an effective and easy-to-understand grading system."

Scuderi touched on the fact that district officials seemed oblivious to the traps being presented by the Power Law and that it took a parent pointing it out to get the issue examined.

Along with this, Scuderi said district officials met with a small group of concerned parents on Oct. 17, and that the parents were treated to a startling admission by the district officials they spoke with.

"Some parents met with district administration and were told that afternoon that the district knew there were issues with the system back in August," she said. "This is unconscionable, that district administration knew about issues and yet proceeded on. No matter how all this came about, there is something seriously wrong with this district and how business is being conducted. Students are being used as guinea pigs to test various theories, and no one is minding the store. It is our children's futures being impacted by this apparent lack of accountability."

Scuderi concluded: "Enough is enough."

School district defends and explains grading system

Decatur principal Dave Brower gave a presentation at the Oct. 29 school board meeting on what the grading system is — and how the district believes it should work. Brower touched briefly on problems with part of the algorithm SBG uses to determine student success, called the "Power Law." It was acknowledged that the Power Law was causing an "inflation," but that the equation had been modified. Click here to read more.


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